Nicholas Mevoli, a 32-year-old from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hoped to break a new record in free diving by reaching 236 feet with one breath and without fins. He set his sights on diving at the 2013 Vertical Blue Competition in Dean's Blue Hole, considered the world's deepest ocean blue hole.
Although a relative newcomer to the sport, Mevoli had already won many competitions and held the U.S. record for free diving without the aid of weights and while wearing a monofin. There are three categories in free diving, and going without weights or fins is considered the most difficult.
Sunday, in the Bahamas, surrounded by other athletes and observers, Mevoli pierced the water and swam down into the ocean on what would be the last dive of his life.
On his way to the bottom, at 223 feet, he hesitated and almost went back, but instead kept swimming deeper until he reached the 236 foot mark. Mevoli turned around and arrived at the surface, after a dive of 3 minutes, 38 seconds, the New York Times reported.
He took off his googles and attempted to mouth "I am OK" — standard practice to complete the dive — but he wasn't. Within 30 seconds, he fell unconscious.
Five safety divers were on the scene and lifted him onto a platform, where a doctor attempted to revive him. There was still a pulse — at times —for almost 15 minutes, but something was clearly wrong with his lung, and when they turned Mevoli onto his side blood began pouring out of his mouth.
After his pulse stopped, Mevoli's wetsuit was cut off and divers continued to attempt to revive him for 90 minutes, with CPR and adrenaline shots, but nothing proved successful.
The Switzerland-based international association of free divers, known as AIDA, released a statement Sunday, which said "Nick appears to have suffered from a depth-related injury to his lungs."
Mevoli was a Florida native who had moved to New York and worked behind the scenes in the television industry, but he traveled for competitions extensively in the past year.
He arrived at the 10-day Vertical Blue Competition, which brought together 56 divers from 21 countries, confident, but his attempt to break another national record on Friday in Free Immersion, where divers use a rope to pull themselves down and go back to the surface without fins, ended when he had to be assisted to the surface.
Mevoli is the first athlete to die in an international free-diving competition in the past two decades, but the popular sport is known to be dangerous and it is still common for deaths to occur. Outside Magazine reported statistics are not well established, "but one estimate of worldwide freediving-related fatalities revealed a nearly threefold increase, from 21 deaths in 2005 to 60 in 2008."